Rich Blocks, Poor Blocks

"Rich blocks, poor blocks."

Judging by the viral spread of an eponymous YouTube video this week, there seems to be an insatiable desire for visual demonstrations of America's wealth inequality.

We've run several such graphics showing the geography of economic segregation in cities and metro areas. But for the majority of the nation's cities, that information doesn't usually attract enough attention to produce graphic representation. Atlanta, yes; Savannah, not so much.

On a new website, Rich Blocks, Poor Blocks, data journalist Chris Persaud has punched the American Community Survey data on rent and income into a map of U.S. census tracts. The map is both interactive and visible at different zoom levels, so you can see highly detailed data in dense urban areas one minute, and statewide patterns the next.

Without detailed study, the maps of income and rent tend to correspond pretty exactly. (Unfortunately, the color scheme is quite different, so the visual comparison take some effort.)

Here's Baltimore by income, from red (low) to green (high):

And here's Baltimore by rent, from beige (low) to scarlet (high), showing that similar inversion pattern so peculiar to American cities:

Rent and income aren't identical. Gentrifying neighborhoods might have a higher ratio of rent to income, and suburban areas have the opposite. And there's a lot more disparity in income (a factor of five or six between the low averages and the high) than there is in rent (closer to a factor of three). But the distinctions are only visible on a case-by-case basis.

As an off-the-cuff example, I looked at two neighborhoods in Washington D.C. Census tract 106, an urban district which curls around Union Station in Northeast Washington, has a high average income -- $76,680 -- and a very high average monthly rent -- $1,702. Census tract 4, which is a more suburban area near the Naval Observatory in Northwest Washington, has an average income nearly twice that -- $182,578 -- but a slightly lower monthly rent, $1,569.

In addition to city-level analysis, Rich Blocks, Poor Blocks lets you look at states, where the distribution of wealth can be even more strikingly variable.

Here's Pennsylvania, where the difference between the Philadelphia Metro Area and Pittsburgh and the rest of the state is quite pronounced.

And here's Virginia, where the contrast between the D.C. suburbs and the southern half of the state is even more extreme:

All images courtesy of Rich Blocks, Poor Blocks.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. a photo collage of 2020 presidential candidates.
    Equity

    Will Housing Swing the 2020 Election?

    Among Democratic candidates for president, the politics of America’s housing affordability crisis are getting complicated. Just wait until Trump barges in.

  2. A photo of an abandoned building in Newark, New Jersey.
    Equity

    The 10 Cities Getting a Philanthropic Boost for Economic Mobility

    An initiative funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Ballmer Group focuses on building “pipelines of opportunity.”

  3. A person tapes an eviction notice to the door of an apartment.
    Equity

    Why Landlords File for Eviction (Hint: It’s Usually Not to Evict)

    Most of the time, a new study finds, landlords file for eviction because it tilts the power dynamic in their favor—not because they want to eject their tenants.

  4. Design

    How 'Maintainers,' Not 'Innovators,' Make the World Turn

    We need more stories about the labor that sustains society, a group of scholars say.

  5. A cat lays flat on a bench at a park on the outskirts of Tokyo.
    Life

    Why Don't Americans Use Their Parks at Night?

    Most cities aren’t fond of letting people use parks after dark. But there are good lifestyle, environmental, and safety reasons to reconsider.

×